Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Totally Hot Science

I don't normally talk about anyone or anything being hot, with the possible exception of the weather, but this month's Scientiae Carnival is being hosted by Dr. Isis, whose devoted worshipers all know that she, her shoes, and her science are totally hot. The topic for the carnival is what makes your science as hot as Dr. Isis' Naughty Monkey shoes.

While Dr. Isis' shoes are hot, they do not hold a candle to my science.

My science is hot because it is so all-encompassing. Applied mathematicians such as yours truly get to work with scientists and engineers studying almost anything you could imagine.

Personally, I've worked mostly with chemists and nuclear physicists, but I've been branching out into biofuel production and groundwater modeling. Do I know anything about chemistry, nuclear physics, biofuels, or groundwater? Not really! While I certainly know more about those subjects after working with these scientists than I did before, the cool thing is that I don't really need an in-depth knowledge of their science in order to make a difference in their research. All I need to do is find a way to leverage my knowledge of mathematics and computational science to help them solve their problems faster, more efficiently, or on a larger scale than ever before.

For example, in my biofuel production project, I'm helping to solve biofuel production logistics problems. The PIs of this project were worried about solving a really huge mixed-integer programming problem. As it turns out, I knew of some software that we could use on the supercomputer to solve their problem. Solving the problem at this large scale will revolutionize the biofuel supply chain modeling field -- they will be able to solve problems that they never thought they could solve, and in a reasonable amount of time, too.

That is the sort of thing that keeps me going every day. The fact that I can take something that I might consider basic knowledge, and apply it in a way that it's never been applied before, is smokin' hot.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Store Loyalty?

I hadn't realized how much Vinny enjoyed going to the grocery store until I took him there earlier this week. "Kroger!" he exclaimed excitedly. And through the store he was practically singing, "I go Krogering!!!" I was laughing so hard that people were looking at me funny.

The next day, I was remarking to Jeff how Kroger should start a new ad campaign featuring our son. He agreed, and we were laughing about how much money we could make on this idea.

Then, Jeff asked Vinny if he wanted to go to Kroger.

"No thanks," he said. "I go Wal-Mart."

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Meal Assessment

Yesterday's meal had some problems. For one, my rolls turned out badly. Sometimes it seems that I heat the water/milk too much and end up killing the yeast. So I bought a candy thermometer and made sure the milk was the right temperature. In fact, it was too hot, so I let it cool down to the right temperature. Then, the dough rose, I made it into 24 rolls, and they rose again. They looked pretty good going into the oven, but when I took them out they were burned on the bottom. The temperature control on the oven is a little off, and also, my muffin tins were too close to the heating element, I suspect. Also, I should have stuck around and observed them, even though I came back in time to take them out according to the recipe.

So I made some cornbread instead, and it worked out okay, but again the oven did its best to burn it. This time I kept a closer eye on it though, and the oven did not ruin my cornbread too.

Another problem was that they so-called "fresh" turkey breast I had bought was frozen when we took it out of the fridge. It was probably at least partially the fridge's fault; things at the bottom of the fridge often freeze. In any case, we had to improvise to get the turkey to cook. I'm not sure exactly what Jeff did but it worked out and the turkey was delicious.

Vinny ate only cornbread and cranberry sauce for dinner. He loves him some cranberry sauce (but not plain cranberries!). When I was making the cranberry bread, I let him help me put the cranberries in the mixer, and he popped one in his mouth, making the funniest expression as he tasted the SOUR.

After dinner, Vinny wanted to call his grandparents, so we did. When he called Granny and Granddad, he even got to talk to Aunt Ginger! Grandma and Grandpa were at a movie when we called, but they called back later.

It was a good holiday, even if the food didn't come out quite as I had hoped.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hope you're all enjoying a nice day with the family. We're having a small Thanksgiving with just the three of us and our favorite Thanksgiving foods: turkey breast, rolls, cranberry sauce, corn pudding, broccoli casserole, and cranberry bread. Why make all the other stuff when you don't really like it that much anyhow?

Anyhow, gotta get to work. Those rolls don't bake themselves!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

If I Were a Rich Woman

The meme I did the other day got me thinking about what I would do if suddenly, millions (or billions) of dollars fell in my lap.

My list of five things I would do is pretty accurate. I think I would semi-retire from my job, and take a small slice of the money to use as a pension for myself and my dependents. I would probably not give any money to friends or family, or use it to buy myself a huge mansion, or anything like that. My friends and family are all capable of taking care of themselves, although should disaster strike them, I might reconsider. I wouldn't want to buy a huge mansion because we have a hard enough time keeping our 2800 square foot house clean. I might consider buying some acreage of land, but only to create a nature preserve or something like that.

The remainder of the money I would put into safe investments such as bonds, and fund projects that I like with the interest. Things that I would be interested in funding include (but are not limited to) providing high-risk K-12 students with opportunities for learning about STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics); building secular schools in indigent parts of the world, and funding programs that assure girls the opportunity to go to school; developing renewable energy sources; and influencing government policy to build a country that provides its citizens with the opportunity to live up to their full potential.

What would you do with millions (or billions) of dollars?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Conference Pictures

As promised, some pictures from the conference.

First, I walked an awful lot, especially the first few days of the conference, but I also had to construct some signs for people who didn't realize they needed a sign until the day of the conference, or a substitute sign for one that didn't come in for whatever reason. So this is a picture of me designing a sign.

I know that I made a few minor mistakes/typos (we found one case where we had an extra comma, and another case of a missing parenthesis), but let me tell you how glad I am that I did not make the following banner:
In case you're having trouble reading it, the first sentence reads
In this dual, your data is Bulletproof, lightening fast and reliable.
Ouch! That sentence alone contains at least three errors. To go all Evil Editor on them,
In this dual [what about the primal?], your data is Bulletproof [while your signs are not proofread], lightening fast [since when does any hair coloring product work quickly?!?!] and reliable [unlike the copy editor's skillz].
They took the sign down on Saturday, and replaced it with the following:
and I no longer involuntarily shuddered every time I walked under their sign.

Because we were in Austin, the conference had a music initiative. As part of the music initiative, people could sign up to sing and/or play in the music room. I was conned into playing the violin:
That is not my violin; they rented one just for me from a local music store. I hadn't prepared for this occasion so I just played stream-of-consciousness; I started with Amazing Grace (which I always play for my grandma) and went wherever the thought train took me.

Each year at this conference we have a special Thursday night event. Last year in Reno we saw the Blue Man Group; this year, we went to a ranch outside of town and experienced the three cultures of Texas (cowboy, Native American, and Mexican). The event was pretty fun except that it was too crowded and it was really cold; a lot of people were underdressed for the weather and froze their butts off. Anyhow, they had some Native American Fancy-Dancers:

and a real mariachi band!
From what I understand, what makes them a mariachi band (unlike Los Cientificos Locos) is the presence of the big guitar (guitarrón) in the center of this photo.

They were great and we stood there and listened to them for a long time. At one point they played La Bamba and it morphed into Twist and Shout. I hadn't put it together until then that those songs are basically identical, or at least follow the exact same chord progression.

Anyhow, we had a great time at the conference and are looking forward to it again next year. I'm so crazy that I agreed to sign up as signage chair for next year. I figured, I know exactly what to do now, so why not exploit that knowledge? Now I just have to recruit someone to help me.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vinny Status

Vinny had a great time with Grandma and Grandpa while we were in Austin. Grandpa took Vinny to see his (Grandpa's) mother, who lives in Indiana, and Vinny entertained himself by pointing out all the bridges over the interstate. He also slept like a champ, crying for a maximum of 45 seconds each night before going to sleep.

So we tried just putting him in his room to sleep last night, and instead of carrying on and whacking the door, he cried for a couple of minutes before going to sleep. So maybe he's reached a new developmental level and is no longer afraid of sleeping alone. Either that, or he couldn't play Grandma and Grandpa like he could his parents, and has gotten out of the habit.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Home Again

Just a quick note to say that we've made it back home safely. We arrived back in Kentucky last night, and then drove home this afternoon. Vinny was happy to see us but I know he had a great time with Grandma and Grandpa while we were gone. We missed him a lot but felt very confident that he was safe and having a great time.

Anyhow, it's good to be back home. I think I'll probably go to bed early tonight.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Five Things Meme

I was tagged by ScienceWoman to do the Five Things meme.

Five Things I Was Doing Ten Years Ago:
  1. Getting adjusted to married life.
  2. Wondering whether I was smart enough to make it through graduate school.
  3. Missing Kentucky and all my friends.
  4. Trying to figure out how to afford to buy a house.
  5. Hoping my husband would land a non-temp job.
Five Things on My List to Do Today:
  1. Pack all the loot I've acquired into my suitcase.
  2. Make it to the airport in time for our flights.
  3. Beg the airline to let us be on the same flight together. (Good luck on that one.)
  4. Make my flights and hope not to miss my connection.
  5. Hug my little boy after 8 days without him!
Five Snacks I Love:
  1. Cherries
  2. Peaches
  3. Ice cream
  4. Cookies
  5. French fries
Five Things I Would Do If I Were a Millionaire:
(I'm assuming this is a multi-millionaire -- millionaire doesn't get you very far anymore!)
  1. Retire, or cut back to part-time work.
  2. Create a foundation with my money, providing myself with a small salary and investing the money safely.
  3. Use that money to fund projects I deem worthy.
  4. Spend more time with my family.
  5. Use my spare time to encourage social change.
Five Places I Have Lived:
  1. Kentucky
  2. California
  3. Kent, England
  4. Illinois
  5. Tennessee
Five Jobs I've Had:
  1. Summer Intern
  2. Volunteer
  3. Graduate Teaching Assistant
  4. Graduate Research Assistant
  5. Postdoc
Five People to Share this Meme with:
  1. Whoever wants to do it
  2. Whoever wishes I picked them
  3. Whoever has nothing better to do
  4. Whoever likes this sort of thing
  5. Whoever wants me to ruin their life

Friday, November 21, 2008

Last Day

It's hard to believe the conference is over already. We had such a good time last night at the event. I'll tell you more about the experiences we had at the conference after we get home, including a picture of the most horrible sign I have ever seen (luckily not designed by us; a very costly mistake for the company involved).

Tonight we have a farewell dinner, and then tomorrow we leave for home (well, Kentucky, on the way home).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Signage Update and Notes for Next Year

Tuesday was the biggest volume of signs, but yesterday was competitive. Today there are a respectable number of signs, especially when you consider the event signs we have to place this afternoon. Tomorrow we have five signs for the technical program so that should be easy to do.

Next year, I am crazy and have agreed to do signs again. For that, I would like to offer the following notes to self about how things can go better next year.
  • Get the convention company to place all the sign stands ahead of time. Or, if I can't do that, get 2-3 big burly student volunteers at first convenience to place the sign stands, and another one to help me sort through the signs.
  • Develop a schedule, and post it on the wall, detailing when we have to do what. Some signs that were not part of the scheduled technical program got lost and we were scrambling to find them and place them in a timely manner.
  • Create a database from people submitting signs, that will have the above information in it.
  • Put date, time, and location on the bottom of every sign, not just technical program signs
  • Office supplies: 11x17 paper, at least 2 rolls of tape, paper cutter, scissors, pens, 8.5x11 tabletop sign easels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Conference Fun

Tuesday night was the big night for vendor parties. The vendor who provides my place of work with our supercomputers was having a big bash, so I acquired several invitations and invited three graduate school friends and a graduate school professor of mine, my conference protegée, and the fabulous ScienceGirl and her better half.

We met in the lobby of the hotel at which the party was being held, just before it began. We partook of the food and drink that our fearless vendor hosts provided, and spent a lot of time talking, even after the party was officially over. It was good to see my friends from my graduate school days, and it was wonderful to get to know ScienceGirl better.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

More Signage, Less Walking

Last night, at the opening gala, I got carded! I wanted one of these blinking martini glasses, but in order to get one, you had to get a martini. When I went to get the martini, the bartender asked me for ID. "I am flattered!" I gushed as I pulled out my ID. He was slightly embarrassed when he read my date of birth.

By the time we got back to the hotel, my feet were just killing me. One of my colleagues had recommended soaking my feet in cold water -- as cold as I could stand it -- before going to bed. So I tried it, and it really seemed to help! This morning, my feet felt better than they'd felt yesterday morning.

I'd been worried, because today was going to be a big signage day. But luckily, we got some student volunteers who came looking for work to do, so they put out all the signs tonight instead of us (awesome!).

I spent most of the day (other than the signage part) meeting people. I had signed up to be a mentor for some of the students participating in the conference, so I met my protege, a very nice young woman majoring in mechanical engineering. I also met the ever-fabulous ScienceGirl, who is every bit as fascinating and engaging in real life as she is on the computer screen.

I also went to an interesting BoF (Birds of a Feather) session on diversity. I am always interested in making the computing community more diverse, as it gets kinda lonely sometimes when you're the (token) female. I am going to be leading a BoF on a similar topic at the Tapia conference next year, so I was excited to see the eponymous leader of this BoF.

Other than that, I haven't really participated in much of the technical program. Hopefully I will make it to a session or two tomorrow or the next day.

Monday, November 17, 2008


In addition to running around putting up signs, I ran into my former boss from when I was working at the supercomputing center at my alma mater. I don't remember how long ago it was that I last saw him but it was really nice to see him again.

Now, I'm off to rest up before the Grand Opening of the showroom floor.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Another Short Post

...but maybe not quite as short!

We arrived safely in Austin on Friday afternoon and hit the ground running. There was lots of signage prep that afternoon, and then a dinner event for the committee members that evening.

On Saturday, I walked perhaps more than I have walked all year (only a slight exaggeration), setting up easels and other sign holders, and putting out signs. Also, I sorted through a lot of the signs in our signage storage office, and tried to put them in the right order.

Today, there was more signage placement, delivery, and sorting. We have everything set for tomorrow's events, and I went ahead and checked our signs for Tuesday. We're missing a couple but otherwise it looks good. We just have to get those printed.

Did I mention that I've been walking a lot? This morning upon waking up, I felt that I was at about the same level of soreness as if I'd had a long day and was ready to go to bed. That's how sore I was. Today was less walking-intensive but still plenty tough.

Friday, November 14, 2008

From the Depths of My Mind

A sampling of the things I'm thinking about at cruising altitude:
  • Do they make any good windshield wipers that don't squeak? The wipers on our VW Beetle make the most horrendous scraping sound when the windshield is not "wet enough" for them. It's really loud and annoying. And it startles me while I'm driving.
  • How do I properly use a pointer-to-function that's actually a singleton templated class method in C++? E.g.,
template <typename T> class Singleton {
Instance() {
static T& instance;
return instance;
Singleton(Singleton const&);
Singleton& operator=(Singleton const&);
// then, I have another templated class
class MyCostFn {
template <typename T> Cost cost_fun(T arg1) {
// return some Cost (Cost is typedef'd unsigned long)
// some other irrelevant stuff
// Then, I have a function like this:
void blah(Cost c);
// and I want only a single instance of MyCostFn,
// which I want to use inside the function blah(...),
// so I try
blah(Singleton <MyCostFn>::Instance().cost_fun<double>);
// and the compiler can't figure out what type
// the stuff between parentheses is.
  • Where is my iPod? Oh there it is.
  • Why do colleagues A and B not get along? I get along fine with both of them, but put them in the same room and there's friction. Obviously the transitive property does not apply to friendship.
  • Don't lose your sunglasses for the third time this year. Put them in the carry-on, instead of on top of it.
  • Why would a later version of autoreconf fail to reconfigure the same package that a slightly earlier version reconfigured just fine on another (but very similar) machine? Did I incorrectly install g4/autoconf/automake on the first machine? It passed all its internal tests!
  • There was something I was going to think deeply about while on the plane. Now what was it? I knew I'd have plenty of time to think about it but I can't remember for the life of me what it was.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Last-Minute Preparations

I think we got all the signs done.

I think I packed all the clothing I'll need.

You'll hear otherwise.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy Century, Grandma!

Today is my maternal grandmother's 100th birthday! That's right, my Grandma, whom I thought last year was not much longer for this world, has made it to 100 years.

The world was a very different place 100 years ago. I'm sure that she never expected many of the developments that have occurred over the past 100 years. If she were aware of what was going on today, I'm sure she'd be thrilled to learn that we'd elected our first African-American president. It was from her that I got much of my sense of justice.

We'll probably go see her tomorrow, and give her a picture that Vinny drew in her honor.

Anyhow, just a shout-out to my grandma, and congratulations for making it 100 years!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Countdown to Conference

On Thursday, we'll be taking off for Kentucky, and Jeff and I will be leaving Vinny behind with my dad and bonus mom while we're at the conference.

I am extremely grateful that my dad is willing to look after Vinny for us. I know he feels a special bond with his grandson, because he was there in the room when Vinny was born. Also, since we live so close by, he's gotten to see Vinny at least once every two months, so he's gotten the opportunity to watch him grow up. And getting to take care of him over the course of a week like this also adds to the experience.

Vinny loves his Grandma and Grandpa, and often requests to go to their house. We've been telling him for a while now that he'll get to go there soon, but I don't think he really has a concept of time.

Anyhow, I think Vinny will have as much fun as we will. Plans include taking him to see my dad's mother in Indiana for a few days. I don't know what else they plan to do, but anything with Grandpa is bound to be fun!

Monday, November 10, 2008

More Vinglish

Continuing the documentation of his ever-expanding vocabulary:
  • Buhsh teeth: brush teeth
  • Choca milk: chocolate milk (actually, ovaltine)
  • Cwanbewy: cranberry sauce (yes, he is my son!)
  • Noonels: noodles
  • Banganga: banana (he's been saying all three syllables, in his idiosyncratic way, for several months now)
  • Ike sweam: ice cream
  • Wauger: water (it's pronounced just like water, except with a "g" rather than a "t." And, we think it's so cute that now we've started calling it wauger too!)
  • Slowflake: snowflake
  • O by doodness: oh my goodness!
  • Look-a aww de lights: Look at all the lights!
  • I dwaw papew: I want to draw on paper
  • Coink: coin
  • Money: any slip of paper -- a dollar bill, a receipt, a coupon...
  • Lightning bulp: light bulb
Also, he's been singing the alphabet song for quite a while, and has almost all the letters included in his song. These days, it goes something like, "A, B, C, Deee, F, G/ H, I, Jaaay, L, M en P/ Q-wah S, T-uh V, duba-aw X and Z."

Sunday, November 09, 2008

And Now, Some Levity

My son has the most interesting sense of humor. One of his favorite things to do is to propose something ridiculous, and then say "NOOOOO!" afterwards.

Some of my favorite recent examples:
  • Eat moon? NOOOOO!
  • Eat vacuum cleaner? NOOOOO!
  • Touch star? NOOOOO!
  • Get inside washing machine? NOOOOO!
Also, whenever I emphatically tell him not to do something, I say "No, sir!" The other night, he was kicking me during a diaper change, all the while saying, "No sir! No sir!"

Saturday, November 08, 2008

In Which I Feel that I'm Vicariously Living through Junior High Yet Again

I was filled with such hope this past Tuesday evening, when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. I kissed the wiggling boy in my arms as I felt a lump forming in my throat. My precious son will think nothing of electing a president of any race or ethnicity. Tonight, we have made this world a better place for him to inherit.

But by morning, my hope turned to despair. The same state that delivered the presidency to a man who would have been forced to take the back seat of a bus forty years ago had told its gay and lesbian citizens that their temporary welcome at the front of the equality bus was overstayed, and it was back to second-class status for them.

I wept when I saw confirmation of my worst fears: California's Proposition 8 passed. I spent my prescheduled counseling session crying and discussing the damage California's voters had done to my psyche, rather than talking about the personal issues I had hoped to work through. The sadness and depression has been lingering over my head all week long.

I have never given money to any political cause, but I gave money to the "No on 8" campaign. As my longtime readers know, two members of my first family are gay, so while this was a personal fight to me, it seemed to mean a lot more to me than that, for some reason. My goodness, I am more upset than the person nearest and dearest to me who is impacted the most by this defeat! She was taking it in stride, while I am still a mess.

After some Friday night introspection, I was able to figure out why this defeat upset me so: It's like living through Junior High School all over again! Hear me out.

Proposition 8 was a measure to decide what kind of rights a minority group of people should be allowed to have. Are their actions sufficiently acceptable to the general public? Basically, it boiled down to a popularity contest -- were gays and lesbians popular enough to be allowed to remain on equal footing with their heterosexual counterparts?

Do you see how flawed that method of decision-making is? It's reminiscent of Junior High School, in which your fate is determined by consensus of the most popular students -- they decide who gets tripped on the way to the cafeteria or who gets their face plunged into the toilet bowl; whose life is hell on earth and who can just live their lives in peace. It's juvenile and it's not in the spirit of the entitlement of all people to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I'm sorry, but nobody's rights are up for debate. Even the most vile and bigoted people are deserving of equal protection under the law. That's the whole point of having a Bill of Rights, and of having separation of church and state -- to allow people to follow their own path even when their views or private behaviors are incredibly unpopular.

For example, I think (as do most people who would read this blog on a regular basis) that white supremacists are some of the most vile and bigoted people in the world. Should we vote on their right to vote, marry, or live their private lives in peace? Absolutely not! Their popularity (or lack thereof) should not be a consideration when it comes to how they are treated under the law.

I see that some gay rights groups have filed lawsuits against Proposition 8, arguing that by allowing Proposition 8 to stand, "you are effectively rendering equal protection a nullity if a simple majority can so easily carve an exception into it. Equal protection is supposed to prevent the targeting and subjugation of a minority group by a simple majority vote." By contributing to their legal fund, I hope to find some cathartic release, almost as if I were helping my fellow nerds fight back against the assholes who dunked their proverbial heads in the toilet. A win for equality will go a long way towards healing many emotional wounds, including those I sustained at school some two decades ago.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Keeping to Your Principles in a World that Disagrees with You

Fearless commenter Pete takes exception to my comments in the previous post that nurses or doctors should do the job they're paid to do. Quoth Pete:
If something is wrong you shouldn't do it. Being `hired' implies you agreed to perform abortion services, you are trivializing this issue....
I completely agree, Pete, that if you believe something is wrong you shouldn’t do it. However, my point is that you should know what is required of a job and either perform the job you were hired to do, or quit. A job at an abortion clinic necessarily requires participating in the abortion procedure, and if you’re opposed to the procedure, you should not get a job there in the first place. Likewise if you don’t feel able to weigh the physical and mental health of a rape victim versus the potential life that could (against her desires) form inside her, or to make snap judgments about the life of a fetus versus the life of its mother, then it sounds to me like emergency room medicine may not be for you.

Similarly, a job as a pharmacist necessarily requires dispensing medications by prescription. If you are opposed to birth control medication, the morning-after pill, or even prescription vitamins, well, that is too bad for you. You do not get to make the decisions about what medications another autonomous human being takes. Those decisions are made by that person with the help of his or her doctor, not by you.

I have no sympathy for people who do not do the job they are paid to do. Why is that? Because I, too, have faced moral dilemmas in my line of work, and have resolved them simply by not accepting any job that involves morally questionable work.

The biggest employer of computational scientists in this country is the United States Government and its contractors. Most of us perform work for the Department of Energy or Department of Defense.

I am morally opposed to war and nuclear weaponry. Remaining consistent with my morals significantly limits my career opportunities. I had the opportunity to work at an NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) lab. I turned it down for a lower-paying job at an Office of Science lab. I'm happy with my decision; the 50% larger paycheck I was offered could not pay for the moral contortions or soul-selling I would have had to do.

Likewise, many of my colleagues at my Office of Science lab do contract work for the Department of Defense. They are flush with funding, while my funding situation is a little more unstable. But I would not trade my moral consistency for their monetary stability. I've never been asked to work on their projects, but if I were, the answer would be an unequivocal no, even if it put me out of work. Life is too short to sell myself out like that!

I understand, however, that others have different morals than I do. I can see why people might feel that keeping an active nuclear arsenal is an effective deterrent to nuclear war, but I happen to disagree. If I felt even more strongly about it, I might find a line of work that helped to reduce the necessity for nuclear and conventional weapons (for example, something that works to solve the problems of poverty and iniquity in the world).

I spend my days making a difference by enabling scientists to perform basic science and energy research using supercomputers, and I couldn't be happier. Had I tried to fit myself into the NNSA/DoD mold, I would be a lot richer monetarily, but much poorer inside my soul. I would encourage morally conflicted medical professionals to find a different path where their morals can't be compromised.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sounds Like a Plan

Predictions* from Focus on the Family for an Obama administration (my editorializing in color):
  • From the end of 2009, Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito have been constantly outvoted 6-3 and they are essentially powerless. (Awesome!)
  • The most far-reaching transformation of American society came from the Supreme Court’s stunning affirmation, in early 2010, that homosexual marriage was a “constitutional” right that had to be respected by all 50 states because laws barring same-sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. (Yes, I think that is where the interpretation is going. Oh, and get over your bad selves and stop using scare quotes already!)
  • Boy Scouts: “The land of the free”? The Boy Scouts no longer exist as an organization. They chose to disband rather than be forced to obey the Supreme Court decision that they would have to hire homosexual scoutmasters and allow them to sleep in tents with young boys. (Remember, homosexual == pedophile. Oh wait, no it doesn't! Sounds fair enough to me. And they can't discriminate against atheists anymore if they're shut down.)
  • Adoption agencies: “The land of the free”? There are no more Roman Catholic or
    evangelical Protestant adoption agencies in the United States. Following earlier rulings in New York and Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that these agencies had to agree to place children with homosexual couples or lose their licenses. (Providers of public adoption services are no longer allowed to discriminate against people? Awesome!)
  • Doctors and lawyers: “The land of the free”? Physicians who refuse to provide artificial insemination for lesbian couples now face significant fines or loss of their license to
    practice medicine... (Doctors have to do the jobs they're hired to do? Outrageous!)
  • Homosexuals in the military: One change regarding the status of homosexuals did
    not wait for any Supreme Court decision. In the first week after his inauguration President Obama invited gay rights leaders from around the United States to join him at the White House as he signed an executive order directing all branches of the military to abandon their “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy... (Well, I think this is where public sentiment is going anyhow. Sounds great to me!)
  • The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard a new challenge to the phrase “under God” in the pledge, and, as it had in 2002 in Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al., it held the wording to be unconstitutional. Now the Supreme Court has upheld this decision. (Sounds awesome. There's no need for those words in the pledge, which was originally written without it.)
  • Congress lost no time in solidifying abortion rights under President Obama. In fact, Obama had promised, “The first thing I’ll do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act” ... (Awesome! Finally, a president who thinks that I know better than anyone else does when it comes to the contents of my uterus!)
  • Nurses and abortions: “The land of the free”? Nurses are no longer free to refuse to
    participate in abortions for reasons of conscience. (Forcing nurses to do the job they're hired to do? Awesome!)
  • Terrorist attacks: “The home of the brave”? President Obama directed U.S. intelligence services to cease all wiretapping of alleged terrorist phone calls unless they first obtained a specific court warrant for each case. Terrorists captured overseas, instead of being tried in military tribunals, are now given full trials in the U.S. court system... (Oh no! Treating terrorists like they're actual human beings? Godless forbid!)
  • The new Congress under President Obama passed a nationalized “single provider” health care system, in which the U.S. government is now the provider of all health care in the United States, following the pattern of nationalized medicine the United Kingdom and Canada. The great benefit is that medical care is now free for everyone -- if you can get it. [Some blathering about ridiculously long waiting lists...] (Sounds about like things are now, except that instead of waiting lists, we have price lists. Instead of out-of-control wait times, we have out-of-control prices that are unaffordable for most people with serious diseases. Either way, people who need medical help can't get it. But I doubt that this would happen should we have national medical care; it doesn't work that way in Canada despite what these people would have you believe.)
I expect President Obama to get right on it. Sounds like a plan to me!

* Except that they're not actually predictions, because, like, predicting stuff is witchcraft and shit. Except, yeah, they are, by any normal definition of prediction, predictions.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Coming Attractions

This is the month of the big conference for which a colleague and I are in charge of placing thousands of signs. I have traveled four times this year to the conference planning meetings, and gotten well acquainted with the Austin (Texas) Convention Center. It's a big place, so we're going to be doing a lot of walking in order to place all these signs.

This conference is the biggest conference in the high-performance computing field, with nearly 10,000 attendees. I think we have almost everything done. There are just a few signs we have to finish up. We've also ordered twenty blank signs, for things we might have missed.

I've managed to convince my better half to come along too, and help us place the signs. He (foolishly?) agreed to help. We're leaving Vinny with my dad again, this time for ten days. The conference is the week before the week of (American) Thanksgiving. We're leaving for Austin on the Friday before the conference, and coming back the Saturday after it's over. Luckily, we're flying in and out of Lexington, so that will make things easier for my dad in terms of dropping us off and picking us up. Unluckily, I had to make Jeff's flight arrangements separately from my own (which were made by my workplace), and by the time I went to do his, my return flight was sold out, so he's taking a different flight back to Lexington than I am. The good news for him is that he leaves an hour later than I do and gets in an hour earlier. The bad news is that we're not together.

In preparation for the walking we're going to do at the conference, Jeff and I purchased some (expensive) walking shoes this past weekend. We went to the New Balance store and were fitted for some shoes. Jeff declared that his shoes were heavenly, like walking on air. Mine are comfortable, but not quite that nice.

I think we should have a lot of fun. I may get the opportunity to meet up with a fellow blogger, and if I do and assuming it's okay with this person, I'll let you know all about it. But even if I don't get to do the meet-up, there are so many things to do and people to see that I know we won't be bored!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Have You Voted Yet?

Hello, my dearest American friends. If you have not yet voted today, please do. Yes, even if your vote and mine would cancel each other out. Especially if you want to cancel my vote out, because by the time this posts I will have already voted, so there!

Seriously, it's an extremely historic occasion, and I am proud to say that I voted on the day that we will probably elect the first non-white president in the history of the United States, even though I live in a state that is going to go the other way, no doubt about it.

Anyhow, go out and vote. Exercise your rights. And make sure to double- and triple-check your vote before you turn it in.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Six Pseudorandom Facts about Me

I was tagged by Acmegirl to do this meme, so here goes. I hate tagging other people, though, so if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged; otherwise, don't worry about it.

The rules:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.

  2. Post the rules on your blog.

  3. Write six random things about yourself.

  4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.

  5. Let each person know they’ve been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.

  6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
Okay so here goes.
  1. I am very allergic to (dog and cat) fleas. This is an important reason why we have no pets. The misery I experience when a flea bites me is really too much to bear. I first discovered my flea allergy when I was home the summer after my first year of college. I developed all these bright red welts with watery heads on them that itched beyond belief. My mom took me to the doctor, who immediately ruled out flea bites, since we had no pets. He then thought I must have some sort of micro parasite, and the only way to kill it was to cover my entire body (skin, scalp, soles of my feet, you name it!) with some kind of really stinky cream, and leave it on overnight. I did that, the itchy welts didn't go away -- in fact, I kept getting more and more! -- and boy was I annoyed. Then, a cousin who grew up on a farm with pets came for a visit, and she immediately found and captured a flea. My mom took it to the extension entomologist, who identified it as a dog-and-cat flea. We had the house flea-bombed while we were gone, and the problem was solved. To this day, my bout with the fleas adds an extra layer of discomfort to my interactions with other people's pets. The last thing I need in life is another round of flea bites.
  2. Every weekday morning, I eat yogurt with cereal on it and drink a tall glass of water. I liked the Dannon Lite-n-Fit kind, until they recently changed the recipe and I don't like their "improvements." Luckily my local grocery chain has a good store-brand-equivalent, and I eat that. I used to have a sprinkling of Rice Krispies (or their store-brand-equivalent) on my yogurt, but lately I have been enjoying Uncle Sam cereal on my yogurt. Uncle Sam is pretty vile stuff if you just eat it plain, but the sweetness of the yogurt counteracts its natural flavor. And Uncle Sam stays very crunchy through the course of breakfast, something that was an issue with Rice Krispies.
  3. When I was a kid and we would travel, we would eat fruit-flavored yogurt with sweet cereal (such as Alpha Bits) for breakfast just about every time we spent the night in a hotel. There weren't so many hotels that offered you a "complimentary" breakfast like there are nowadays. So we would have these yogurt cups and a box of cereal handy. My weekday breakfast is much lower in calories than those breakfasts of my childhood, but it does still evoke those memories.
  4. On those trips when I was a kid, I visited all the states in the continental United States, and a few Canadian provinces. Our summer vacations (not the whole time we were out of school; I mean the time we traveled in the summer) usually involved traveling to wherever my dad had a conference, and back. We had a big tan van and my parents drove that thing across the country I don't know how many times. Some of my favorite places we went were the Canadian Maritime provinces (okay, that may have actually been the Summer of the Fleas -- not exactly when I was a kid), the Southwestern U.S., and the Pacific Northwest.
  5. I do not have a diamond engagement ring. My engagement ring is a gold band that's a replica of a medieval French ring. On it, it says "Vous et nul autre" (You and none other). Then, I have a similarly wide gold wedding band, that is beveled but otherwise plain. The wedding bands were $60-70 each at Service Merchandise, a store that no longer exists, but was known at the time for its low jewelry prices. The lack-of-diamond was at my request, because first, I like the flat profile of my rings, making it much harder for me to snag my clothes, panty hose, or whatever; second, diamonds are overrated; and most importantly, with all the cruelty associated with the diamond industry, I could not with good conscience indulge in one.
  6. I am an avid proponent of the hyphen in writing. Not just because I have a hyphenated name -- it's because the hyphen is a very useful tool for communication. It can help clarify what word is modifying what. Take, for example, Bach's work "The Well-Tempered Clavier." The hyphen tells you that "well" modifies "tempered," not "clavier." When you say it, your vocal inflection and your pauses between the words is what gives you this clue, but in the written word, we rely instead upon the hyphen. So, if you were saying one of the terms I run into all the time, "high-performance computing," you would say "high performance (brief pause) computing." My colleagues joke with me that thanks to my dogmatism, their hyphen usage has increased by 2000%.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Junior Park Ranger

During our trip to the Grand Canyon last month, we were missing our favorite little boy a lot. So when Jeff saw a cute little park ranger costume at the shop in Grand Canyon Village, well... he bought it for Vinny.

Luckily, Vinny's really too young to understand what's going on, so we could get away with picking his costume for him (this is probably the last year for that). So Daddy dressed him up as the cutest little park ranger out there, and took this outstanding picture of our junior park ranger examining his sunglasses:

(Shouldn't that just win the cutest costume for two and under award?)

I think he's just as cute as his first and second Halloweens, but maybe I'm just biased. But no picture is as outstanding as this one of our cute little devil from last year:

(Clearly, this is a contestant for best picture ever.)

Before we took him trick-or-treating, I explained the rules. "We ring the doorbell, say 'trick or treat,' and then we get a piece of candy and put it in the bag." He really didn't understand what I was talking about, and at the first house, refused a piece of candy but wanted to go inside the house. Eventually he started to understand not only that people were offering him something, but that that something was CANDY, and then had I left him to his own devices, he would have taken everything from the bowl. He still didn't catch on that we were supposed to just stand at the door and not go in, though. He managed to give me the slip and go into several houses before I realized what was going on. A lot of people thought he was dressed as an explorer and just commented that he was acting in character.

Anyhow, it was the most engaged that he's ever been with Halloween. The first year, he mostly slept through the trick-or-treating. The second year, he wasn't walking yet so it was kind of a hassle to get him in and out of his wagon and carry him to people's doors. This year he's walking on his own and he really enjoyed seeing the people and walking into their houses (much to my embarrassment).

This post encouraged to be posted in a timely manner by the Parentbloggers Halloween costume contest, in which you can win a gift certificate for blurb -- where you can create a coffee table book custom-designed by you!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Caught in a Loop

Here's a clear explanation of the ridiculous loop that people with chronic illnesses can get caught in under our current healthcare situation.

Basically, if you're so ill that you can't make enough money to support yourself, then you become eligible for disability payments from Social Security, and Medicare (eventually) and finally get the care you need. Then, you get well enough (thanks to the expensive care and medication paid for by Medicare) to support yourself, at which time you become ineligible for Medicare. But your job doesn't provide health insurance benefits that will give you the care you need, and you can't afford to pay out-of-pocket, so you get ill again, go on social security and Medicare, and then once again become eligible to receive the treatments you need...

Anyone who wants to reduce the number of people on Social Security disability would do well to support a single-payer health care system. In that way, people would get the treatments they needed from the beginning, and those whose chronic conditions are treatable would never need to rely on disability payments.